Chalet Building in the Alpes

We are often asked how much it would cost to build your own chalet. In 2014 I wrote that it would cost about 2,500 €/m² HT. Now in 2019, we quote 3000 €/m² HT (before TVA) as a benchmark. Normally we qualify this with “of course it depends on so many, factors”, such as the floor area, quality of materials and fixtures and fittings, easy of building on the site, proximity of services and things like that. And you will most likely have to pay the TVA so in the end 3600€/ m² TTC (including TVA) is a good place to start. So if you were building a 4 bedroom 140 m² chalet then a starting point would be about 500,000 € to build the chalet after you have bought the land.

Chalet du Cret near Morzine. A SIP built property

When I mention these figures to UK-based buyers that know about these things they take a sharp intake of breath. Currently, you can build houses in the UK for much less than that. Closer to 1600 €/m² and without VAT to pay either. And sometimes even less. So why the big difference? Some of my opinions follow:

  • Everything costs more in the Alps. In particular materials and more importantly labour. In fact, everything costs more in France.
  • We are not comparing like with like. The “average” chalet in the Alps is higher quality than a cheap house in the UK.
  • The build methods in the Alps are more expensive. In general the properties have concrete basements and first floors. This makes a very solid property, sometimes due to earthquake and avalanche risks it’s mandatory to build this way. It’s also just “the way it’s done”, much like in the UK houses have traditionally been built from brick or block. Plots are often sloping and require heavily engineered foundations.

There are various things you can do to reduce these costs. Taking each point one by one.

  • I’m not going to suggest importing your materials from afar or even you labour (though both these things are possible and may save money).
  • Building a cheap quality chalet is not a good idea, it would be a real shame to waste the worlds resources on building a house that won’t last.
  • Build methods, there could be money saved here. It may also bring in points one and two. I’m referring to kit chalets.

My neighbour is a carpenter and he has just built a chalet using mostly traditional techniques. The basement is concrete as are some of the first floor walls. The main frame was a kit though, the walls arrived on a lorry and ready built. He’s obviously building on a budget but doesn’t want to live in a cardboard box. His build costs will be well under 2500€/m².

Chalet Neuf Bechigne in Chatel, a traditional construction.

ECSUS Design have built a few of the chalets we have sold recently. These guys either design your property or adapt an existing design and fabricate using Structurally Insulated Panels (SIPs) that are engineered and pre-cut to size to ensure an exceptionally quick method of building a highly thermally efficient chalet. The main weather-tight structure can be erected in as little as 3-4 weeks and can be easily finished by an adventurous self-builder or they can do the entire job for you. The average costs of the SIPS structure is about 450€/ m² which represents about 30% of the overall costs of a new chalet and means that a fully managed build can come in at under 3000€/m² .

I recently came across this website for what look like low cost A-frame houses. https://avrame.com/

I have listed some of my previous blogs on this subject below.

https://blog.alpine-property.com/2017/01/02/eco-building-alps/

https://blog.alpine-property.com/2014/03/18/an-eco-chalet-in-the-alps/

https://blog.alpine-property.com/2018/07/26/land-for-sale-in-the-alps/

Developing the Alpine Villages

Author: Steve Norris MD of Alpine Property

Anyone who has been living in the Alps can tell you that the look and feel of our mountain towns and villages has changed and is continuing to change at a surprising speed. Opinion is divided as to whether this change is for the better or the worse. What do you think? Possibly you aren’t so sure. Well, neither was I, so I decided to canvas opinion for you. I was immediately struck by how divided opinion was. Everyone has a very strong view on the topic!

Those with a negative view of the changes suggest a quick trip to the centres of Les Gets, Morzine or Samoens to see the most dramatic and controversial change. In each town centre new large blocks of apartments have appeared in just the last five years. Many locals and long-term residents complain that these have changed the feel of their town. They say that these large new developments have replaced older, smaller scale buildings which gave the town an authentic and lived in feel. An additional problem for them is that frequently these older buildings were hotels or restaurants which provided employment for both locals and saisonaires.

Interestingly this change has not been driven by the tourism industry; pressure for new apartments close to the skiing has always been with us. No, the change has been created by a change in planning regulations. In 2014 restrictions on the maximum size of construction on a given plot of land were removed. This was a national change in response to increased demand for homes. This gave the green light to developers throughout France to build large apartment buildings where this had not been possible previously. The law was changed to help build more homes for families. In our resorts it has resulted in the building of more second homes for holidaymakers. These holidaymakers are delighted to find well built, conveniently located second homes for their holidays in the Alps

But not all is doom and gloom. Many people I spoke to pointed to some very positive changes in the look and feel of our area.

Those with a more positive view suggest a quick trip elsewhere, to one of the many small villages in the valleys leading to the main ski resorts. Over the last 30 years these villages have seen a really dramatic change. Unlike the new developments in the centre of the resorts, this change has been gradual, and so harder to spot. Thirty years ago these villages were very quiet, with many unused buildings. They had, up until the Second World War, been thriving farming villages. At that time the villages were populated by families living a traditional lifestyle. They divided their time between summers spent living in small chalets d’alpage high on the alpine pastures caring for their cattle and winters spent living in the family farm down in the village where the cattle would be kept indoors until the snows melted. This lifestyle gradually disappeared in the fifties and sixties and many families moved elsewhere to earn a living. Their farms and houses thus became unused and in many cases fell into disrepair.

Over the last 30 years these buildings have been renovated one by one. The area has developed a large corps of carpenters, plumbers and electricians skilled in this work. Originally renovated as second homes, more recently these old farms and chalets are being bought and renovated as main homes for people coming to the mountains to raise families in this clean and calm environment. Whatever the reason this gradual change has been immensely positive. Visit any of these villages today and you will see thriving communities with small businesses, local schools and well-kept homes. Most of these chalets and farmhouses have been renovated in a traditional alpine style, meaning that the villages themselves have retained their original authentic feel.

So, what do you think? I think that these changes are simply part of the natural evolution in the use we make of our towns and villages.

If you are thinking of buying a home in the Alps it pays to be aware of these changes and the different character of each village. Make sure you consider what atmosphere will suit you best.

Sailing on La Savoie from Evian

At Alpine Property we have been web based since our inception in 1999. This has had some huge benefits for our business. Apart from anything it has helped us keep at the forefront of technology throughout that time. However to make up for the lack of day to day team contact we arrange a team meeting in Annecy every other month and a team outing twice a year. This year’s summer outing was on a boat trip on Lac Léman. We love to descend out of the mountains to the shores of Lac d’Annecy or Lac Léman. They have an otherworldly feel. It might only take 30 min to get there but when you do it feels like a holiday.

La Savoie at Evian

We went for an afternoon’s sail on “La Savoie”. This is a replica of a traditional cargo boat used throughout the 19th century for transporting rock and gravel from the limestone quarries that can be found on the sides of the lake. A boat like this could shift up to 200 tonnes of rock, all of which will have been wheelbarrowed onto it’s deck. Yes, the deck. Not the hold as you might think. The waterline length is 35 m, though for the older sailor it might be better understood as 114 ft.

La Savoie was launched in the year 2000, so it’s only a year younger than Alpine Property.. However it took 3 years to build. It’s design is based on a boat that was originally built in 1896 in Geneva. There are 3 of these traditional boats on the lake. 2 on the Swiss side and La Savoie in France.

France in the background, under sail and heading towards Switzerland.

We had been trying to organise this trip for a few years. La Savoie had been in dry dock for a refit in 2014 and 2015. It was relaunched in 2016 but taken out of service again in early 2018 because of a problem with the masts. In fact these boats have 2 parts to their mast. The mast and the enormous “lateen” (antenne in French). They are called Lateen rigs, a derivative of “latin”. They came about as an evolution of the square rigged ships. For the sailors among you, this evolution allows the boat to sail further into the wind than the older square rigged ship.

Sorting out the new antenne’s was a saga in itself. You can’t order this sort of thing online! They needed 2 very long slow-grown Spruce. In this case 27 m long. These exist around the Lac de Montriond. The Mairie of Montriond kindly donated a couple for the job. Cutting them down and transporting them whole to the workshop by Lac Léman warranted an article in the paper. Then follows hours of preparation and 3 coats of varnish. In total they estimate 450 hrs of work, so something like 20,000€ to turn these tree trunks into useful “antenne”.

Down below, seating for 60!

These eye watering figures are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to running costs. Apparently La Savoie requires new sails. Much of the fabrication is done by hand. Not even with a machine. Many of threads are hand stitched! The total sail area is 350 m2 . There is only one company in France that can undertake the job. The cost of the three sails amounts to a staggering 70,000€!

The mainsail, 155 m2

We went out for a couple of hours. It was a private trip which we had restricted to 38 people. Below this number the crew will sail the boat. They got us involved with a bit of hauling to hoist the sails up and even let us helm for a while. They will take up to 70 passengers, however with this number the deck becomes too crowded to safely sail, in which case they will just use the motor.

These trips are open to the public April through to October. Generally on weekends at a cost of 18 euros. A few times of year they run a day cruise over to Switzerland for 90 euros with lunch included!

Returning to Evian

Further information can be found here https://www.barquelasavoie.com/

Les Montagnes d’Evian

3 small ski areas between Evian and Chatel have linked up to create “Les Montagnes d’Evian“. When I say linked I don’t mean by lift. They have created a ski-pass that means you can ski in any of them during the season.

As an example during the season a full Portes du Soleil season pass costs 998€, whereas this new pass will cost only 296€. Both passes offer early bird discounts. If you buy your Montagnes d’Evian pass before the 20th/December it will only cost 237€.

So for less than the cost of a 6 day PDS pass you can ski all season in these 3 great little spots.

There are no downsides. Plenty of people ski these local resorts. It’s a bit of a secret unknown to the general skiing public. They might think that they are not big enough to bother with. However it really depends on what you want from a day out. If you just want to clock up miles and miles of wide pistes and long runs, they won’t be for you. However if you are looking for peace and quiet, if you don’t want to find the off-piste tracked out within an hour, or if you are after a nice ski with lunch being just as important. Then they are perfect.

After saying all that. If you add the stats up you do get some fairly big numbers.

  • The longest vertical drop (dénivelé) is almost 1000m
  • 34 lifts, including 2 télécabines & 6 chairlifts
  • Almost 100 km of piste (49 pistes : 10 green, 17 blue, 15 reds et 7 blacks).
  • 3 snowparks, 3 boarder-cross, one big air bag.
  • Plenty of restaurants by the piste.

They are even aiming this at the Swiss market. If you happen to live in Lausanne, then you can jump on a boat, then a bus up to one of the resorts and ski for an all inclusive price of 49.50 CHF.

The Alpine Property Market Report – July 2019

When you work for an estate agent it doesn’t take a new acquaintance long to ask how the market is. It’s just being polite I guess! Beyond that our customers like to ask too. In that case it’s called “doing your homework”.

I have written my thoughts on the subject from time to time. The blog has articles on it in 2017, 2014, 2013, 2011, 2010, and twice in 2009! I note that my favourite month to do this is June or July. That is no surprise when you see our website stats for the year

You can see that the number of visitors to our website in June is the lowest of the year, the same with the number of new enquiries. That picks up in July and then the volume is  maintained for the Autumn. That is not to say we aren’t doing visits in these quiet months, quite often we are making visits that have been organised in the preceding months. Because most of the properties we have for sale are rented during the season it makes sense to make the visits outside of the holiday seasons. As they stand the best chance of being available to view! 

I’ve had a quick look to see if we can see a trend for completion dates. I can’t see anything. From year to year our peak months for completions seem to be totally random.

Market Report

Enough of my musings on season variations. What about the actual market? In general this is going to read very much like my 2017 roundup. Probably better. Back then I was reporting good stability, equal numbers of buyers and sellers. The past winter has been very busy for us. In fact one of the busiest we have ever had in our 20 years. It got to a point where the market started to feel like it was overheating.

We had had a good snow season. It started a little late but other than that we had sunshine and snow! Our most important customer base is the French and they remain positive, our Anglophone customers are bored of Brexit and so for many it is business as usual. Thirdly, our Swiss based buyers are still feeling well off and are keen on our area. Third equal are now Belgium or Dutch customers. They have always been here but their numbers are up this year. come Everyone still wants to fulfil their dream of owning a second home in the mountains! As of June/July 2019 the overheating has calmed down now thanks to a drop in the €/£ exchange rate. This is very much linked to Brexit.

Historically we have talked about the language our customers speak. Not their nationality. However we could talk about their city bases. London and Paris obviously feature at the top followed by Geneva, however now we also talk of Brussels and Amsterdam. One of the unintended consequences of Brexit is a shift out of London towards these other European cities. And Geneva is so well connected to them all. Another reason our area remains popular.

Exchange rate effect?

Looking at the following graph would lead you to believe that the overheating was exchange rate related. I don’t think that is the case. The first reason being that our UK based customers are now only 40% of our market. The second being that the although the graph looks exciting, it really isn’t when viewed over multiple years. You can see that in the second image. Here you can see that the exchange rate has not fluctuated much in the last 3 years.

1 yr €/£ rate

5 yr €/£ rate

The big change we have felt over the last year or so is the addition of lots of new build apartments in all the main ski areas. They are generally well positioned and built to a very high standard with prices to match. So much so, that we have build a dedicated page for new build properties on our website

https://alpine-property.com/newbuild

https://alpine-property.fr/programmeneuf

Here you’ll see 18 new developments that we have for sale across the Haute Savoie. All these new developments have come about thanks to a healthy market but also thanks to a change in building zones from central government. In an attempt to densify the towns and conversely strengthen the green belt, local government has been instructed to relax town planning regulations. This is the result.

Previous reports.

https://blog.alpine-property.com/2017/06/07/alpine-property-market-june-2017/

https://blog.alpine-property.com/2014/02/01/st-gervais-market-report/

https://blog.alpine-property.com/2013/07/19/alpine-property-market-report/

https://alpschaletforsale.wordpress.com/2011/03/29/french-property-market-2010/

https://alpschaletforsale.wordpress.com/2010/01/08/property_market_alps_france/

https://alpschaletforsale.wordpress.com/2009/08/04/state-of-the-market/

https://alpschaletforsale.wordpress.com/2009/03/30/spring-alpine-property-market-review/

Opening the pistes in Morzine

Have you ever looked on in envy as you are waiting to go up the ski lift? Looked at one or two lonely tracks down through the powder. These have probably been left by the “pisteurs” checking the piste over before the lift is cleared to open.  In Morzine you can do this yourself. Each Wednesday throughout the season you can sign up to join a small group to accompany the Pisteur secouriste (ski patrol) for the “overture des pistes”.  And what’s more it’s free! The only hard bit is getting our of bed early enough to meet at the lift at 8am!

Ouverture des pistes

Morzine Source Magazine arranged for a group of business owners and workers from Morzine to join in this excellent activity. So 15 of us met Michel from the Morzine team at the base of the Pleney lift. We were also met by fresh snow and good weather. What more could we ask for?

As promised we set off down our private freshly groomed piste. In fact in places the groomers (dameuse de neige) were still hard at work. This provided Michel with a good opportunity to warn us of the dangers of venturing out on the pistes when they are closed. These grooming machines often work attached to cables that are up to 1km long! If you don’t know what I am talking about I highly recommend watching this film that demonstrates their use. It’s a pertinent warning as some local ski tourers were seriously injured in this valley by one of these cables a few years ago.

We’ve had so much snow in the Portes du Soleil recently that they were having to dig out the chair lifts! Using the piste machine is certainly quicker than digging.

But what is a “Jalon”?

As we went down the piste Michel zig zagged from one side to the other re-positioning the piste markers, signs and fences that had been buried by the snow or moved out of the way for the grooming operations. He was particularly keen to ask that people read and follow the signage. It’s obvious really, however as we all know, when on holiday there are many that like to leave the rules at home.

We all managed to learn a new French word too, “jalon”, which in this context translates as “stake”, these are the sticks that mark the sides of the piste. As opposed to the larger metal piste signs that have the name of the piste marked on them and a number. These jalon have orange tips on the right hand side of the piste and just one colour on the left. This is useful to know in a whiteout.

This was also a good time to explain one of the basic emergency procedures when out skiing. If someone is injured on a piste and you need help, then note the number and name of the piste visible on a nearby piste marker. When this information is relayed to the ski patrol they’ll be able to find the incident without any problem. These markers start at #1, at the bottom piste, Here we are stood at #9, on piste “B” the rather uninspired name of the “home run” in Morzine. 

By the time we reached the bottom of the run it was 8.45am and the lift was just opening for the public. Michel radioed through to his office that the piste “B” was now open. This is something that is done for each piste in the area. The time and the name of the Secouriste that checked the piste is noted on a central register. If there is a serious incident and the police are called upon to investigate, this information forms part of their evidence. 

First tracks

Back at the top Michel checked that we were all happy to ski a black run. This is not obligatory, however in his words “it can’t be all work can it?” As far as we could tell, so far none of this could be counted as work 😜NB. see note below. Though he did follow this up with a reminder that when it is the school holidays and the pistes are icy, his job becomes very busy indeed.  So off we went putting first tracks down one of Morzine’s superb tree-lined powder runs. 

We went back up the lift for a 3rd time, by now it was 9.30am and the pistes were transformed by the crowds gathering for ski school. Michel invited us into his newly built First Aid post for a coffee to finish a very interesting and enjoyable few hours. If you would like to take part then you can find more information about this event on the Morzine-Avoriaz website in English or French.

https://www.morzine-avoriaz.com/ouverture-des-pistes-en-compagnie-d-un-pisteur-secouriste

https://en.morzine-avoriaz.com/agenda-ski-slopes-opening

Seriously

The Pisteur secouristes in our area are having a hard time this season.  Michel was very upbeat which was great. However in the last couple of weeks 4 have died in 3 separate incidents in France. 3 of them on our doorstep. I raised this question with another pisteur, and asked if this was just an unfortunate coincidence. He responded that thanks to the abundant snow falls in the last couple of weeks he had not seen any life outside of his work. 6am starts and getting home at 7pm after hard physical days. Combine that with a job that can involve having to work with explosives and ski in some very hazardous terrain and there might be a link. So keep this in mind next time you see the first tracks down the piste, or when you are held back from an area because of the risk of avalanche. These resort workers are literally putting their lives on the line to keep us all safe.

There is only one marker #21 on the Follys piste in St Jean d’Aulps!

Cross Country Skiing in the Haute Savoie.

Interest in cross-country skiing is on the up and up. France has a very strong biathlon team, headed by Martin Forcade, a 4 time Olympic champion and 11 time world champion. Even  the UK has a current world cup competitor and Olympian, Andrew Musgrave.

As the cost of downhill skiing increases, as the pistes get busier and as people start to appreciate the benefits of daily exercise the interest in cross-country skiing will only improve.

Ski de Fond in Les Gets

Ski de Fond in Les Gets

It is often said that cross-country skiing is the best cardiovascular workout available. This will be because unlike running or cycling you will use both your upper and lower limbs to propel yourself forward. I should say that although this is true at the higher levels of skill, it is possible to cross-country ski at lower efforts too. If you see the number of retired folk on cross-country skis you will understand. I have likened it to swimming, it’s 50% skill and 50% fitness, though like swimming it still works if you lack one or the other. You just go faster with less effort if you take some time to learn the skill!

The cost of Cross Country skiing in the Haute Savoie.

There are many places listed below with free access. However if you are just starting out these free spots might not be a great option, because hiring kit might be an issue. For that you will need a nearby shop of a “Foyer”. These foyer are frequently the place where you start your day, and they can often hire kit. In this case it will cost between 10 and 15€ a day for boots/skis/poles. A day pass for the skiing will be around 8€ for the day. Few people will be out for more than a couple of hours, this means a half day pass won’t save you much. Usually about 1.5€!

For those who will be XC skiing more than a couple of times, buying equipment will make sense. At the most basic level everything can be bought from Decathlon for less than 300 €, beyond that the sky is the limit. A season pass for the whole of the Haute Savoie is available for €120, for the northern Alps at €150 and for all of France €210.

Below I have written a guide to places to go XC skiing around the Haute Savoie. I’ve listed these areas from the most extensive areas first, to the smallest at the bottom. This does not mean you should ignore the suggestions lower down, especially if you are new to the sport. For many a 5 km circuit is just fine!

Aravis (The altitude of each site is in brackets)

La Clusaz / Confins (1420m), 9€, 50 km+ of pistes probably the most extensive area in the Haute Savoie, snow-sure too. They stock snow (snow farming) from one season to the next to ensure an early start. laclusaz-nordic.com/

Manigod / La Croix Fry (1600m) 9€, 36 km, AKA Espace nordique du Plateau de Beauregard laclusaz.com/beauregard-plan-nordique

Grand-Bornand (1250m), 9€, 58 km with 2 biathlon areas (so with shooting ranges) at “Plans” in the vallée du Bouchet and at the stade Sylvie Becaert near the centre of Grand-Bornand village. Full details here legrandbornand.com/ski-nordique  The Grand Bornand is big news in the world of biathlon at the moment, it has recently hosted a round of the World Cup twice and has plans for more. The next one being in December 2019.  biathlon-annecy-legrandbornand.com/

World Cup Biathlon in Le Grande-Bornand Dec 2017

World Cup Biathlon in Le Grande-Bornand Dec 2017

Grand-Bornand / Chinaillon (1300m), free, 27km, accessed from the centre of Chinaillon.

Plateau des Glieres (1450m) 7.80€, 50 km+, an extensive and important site for the French. There is a huge memorial here to the WWII resistance fighters who took refuge on the plateau, supported by British air-drops but finally massacred by the Germans. Snow-sure and with an early start to the season thanks to snow-farming. Access is possible from Le Petit-Bornand but if you want to start from the foyer you will need to access it from the Annecy side and Thorens-Glières.

Praz de Lys with Mt Blanc in the background

Praz des Lys / Sommand (1500m)

8€ a day, 60 km of tracks, all levels. Extensive, snow sure and well known. 15 min drive from Les Gets and 25 min from Morzine. Yprazdelys-sommand.com/hiver/le-domaine-nordique

Grand Massif

Samoens (950m), 8.40€, 30 km of XC pistes, it goes by the name of Vallee-du-haut-giffre, with good snow it extends from Verchaix all the way to the end of the valley at Sixt-fer-a-cheval, however the foyer is at the end of the valley so you will probably start there.

Joux Plane (1700m), 8.40€, 12 km of tracks, snow sure and picturesque. Quite a drive up from Samoens. More information about both sites here. valleeduhautgiffre.fr/domaine-nordique/

Flaine (1844m), free 2.5 km, an early season venue thanks to its altitude.  Also known as the Col de Pierre Carrée flaine.com/fr/hiver/ski-nordique

Agy (1260m), 8.40€ , 35 km, a big centre tucked away behind Saint-Sigismond, good foyer with lots of hire kit available and a welcoming bar/restaurant. centrenordiqueagy.com/

Alpes du Leman

Foyer des Moises (1100m), Only 4.30 €, an extensive 46.5 km of ski de fond pistes, situated between the Col des Moises and the Col de Cou, on the site of the summer gliding centre. More information here:  foyerdesmoises.com/,

Espace nordique des Mouilles (1083m), 8.40€ 20 km pisted + 20km itinerie  between the col du Terramont and the col de Jambaz. hirmentaz-bellevaux.com/espace-nordique/

Plaine Joux, Les Brasses (1200m), about 30km, situated in the Vallée Verte half way between Geneva and the Portes du Soleil (35min from the centre of Geneva). lesbrasses.com/fr/hiver/glisse/ski-nordique/

Portes du Soleil

Chatel (1000m), 8.8€ it’s not really in Chatel it is just 5 km down the valley in La Chapelle-d’Abondance, when the snow conditions are good there are 40 km of tracks. Also above Abondance there is small, free, snow-sure and flat spot at Lac de Plagnes. All the information can be found here: abondance.org/ski-de-fond

Morzine – Valle de La Manche (1100m), free, bus or car access from Morzine, often trashed by walkers! Most often in condition is from L’Erigné and up towards Chardonnière. Once you get to the valley around Chardonniere it’s very snow sure and quite flat, however getting there involves an ascent of almost 200m!

Top of the Pleney / Chavannes (1500m), so this could be termed Morzine or Les Gets. Free, take the lift as a pedestrian (you’ll need to pay for this), walk across the piste to a blue run, this is a 5 km circuit that runs over to Chavannes and back. You can also access this by driving to Chavannes above Les Gets which saves on the lift pass!

Les Gets – Mont Chery (1300m), free, a couple of 5 km circuits from the Belvedere to Mt Caly and back, lift access required again.

Avoriaz (1700m), free, accessed from the Supermorzine télécabine or by car to the parking at Séraussaix or the Col de la Joux Verte . 30km or snow-sure skiing at 1700m. www.avoriaz.com/Plan-des-pistes-de-ski-de-fond

Mont Blanc

Chamonix (1050m) 10€, 20 km of fairly flat pistes to start with, supplemented with snow making equipment. As you get closer to the Argentière end of the valley they start to get a bit hillier. https://www.chamonix.com/ski-nordique

Argentière (1300m) 10€, 15km, can be linked with the tracks at Chamonix.

Vallorcine, (1300m) 10€, 11km, compact and not accessible from the other areas.

Biathlon in Les Contamines

Biathlon in Les Contamines

Les Contamines (1170m), 4.30€ 25 km, and excellent area, heavily shaded and somewhat of a snow trap. Can be kept quite flat. Soon to be the venue of the only summer roller skiing track in the Haute Savoie. lescontamines.com/nordic-ski-domain/

Megeve (1400m), 8€ 38 km. An extensive and well looked after area. It’s up at the Altiport, varied rolling terrain. megeve.com/fr/glisse-ski/ski-de-fond/

I have mostly stuck to areas that are linked to ski resorts. The are a few other Foyer ski de fond I have not covered. Orange (near La Roche-sur-Foron). Semnoz (near Annecy). Saleve (near Geneva) and Chapelle Rambaud (in the middle of nowhere).

The various French websites that cover this subject are:

https://www.nordicpass74.com/ (for the Haute Savoie)

http://www.savoie-haute-savoie-nordic.com (for the 2 Savoies)

There is a great map that covers the area here. https://skidefond74.com/ 

 

The Cheeses of the Haute Savoie

Recently a local friend offered me some Abondance cheese. Although I love cheese, I normally avoid Abondance as I find it too acidic. However this Abondance was different, much smoother, creamier and less likely to remove the inside of my mouth. I asked if he knew why this cheese seemed so much nicer. He replied that it was because it was made from the milk of a cow that had been fed over winter. He explained that I had to go to the local market and explain to the artisan what I was after. It was a surprise (although perhaps it shouldn’t have been), that a cheese will taste different, depending on what the animals have been eating. Another sign we have lost the connection between the land and our food.

The changing seasons effects the flavour

Understanding how the changing seasons are reflected in the evolving flavours of the local cheese can be a real eye opener. Mountain cows spend 5-6 months indoors, normally being fed on grass cut locally and stored from the season before. This is a high calorie diet that leads to a rich creamy cheese. After the snows melt, the animals emerge from the farms and return to the fields for the new grass. The resulting spring milk sees fat and protein content drop. Spring cheeses tend to be lighter bodied. In late spring and early summer the grasses and wildflowers go crazy, and the grazing animals have a rich and varied diet. It should not be a surprise to note a floral taste in these cheeses.

At the end of September (or earlier if the weather dictates) they’ll be brought back down into the valleys for a short time before going back into their sheds

in November. It’s a system of farming known as transhumance. These changing flavours are not apparent in mass produced cheeses, the manufacturer’s adjust the fat and protein content to maintain a constant product. Local mountain producers make their cheese from the milk provided by their animals each day. To experience this seasonality you need to seek out a smaller, artisan cheesemaker. It’s the same with many foods such as honey and even bottled water. The trouble is we are fed blends of all these items from the supermarket and the subtle flavours disappear.

There are plenty of people in the Haute Savoie to whom the supermarket is a last resort, they may produce some of their own food, share and swap what they have with their friends, purchase from local producers at the farm door or in the market. For some cheese, ham, saucisson and various alcohols never come from the shops.

The cheeses you will find around the Haute Savoie.

Abondance, from the Vallée d’Abondance and the Abondance cow. Dates back to the middle ages and the Cistercian monks. The name of this cheese is protected, so it can only come from the Haute Savoie. The milk is first warmed in a copper cooking pot known locally as a “marmite”. Think of a pot of Marmite.

Beaufort, really a Savoie cheese, it comes from around Beaufort, but also extends through the Tarentaise right down to the Maurienne valley. The summer version of this cheese “Beaufort d’été” is easy to identify as it will be marked on the rind. It comes in huge 40kg “ronds”, made from lait cru, so unpasteurised milk.

Chevrotin, goats cheese from across the two Savoie’s, rich and creamy, comes in much smaller 300g packages.

Reblochon, from the Aravis in the Haute Savoie and the Val d’Arly in the Savoie, it dates back to the 13th century. Apparently the farmers in Thônes would milk their cows in front of their lords and pay their taxes on the milk produced. However they would not milk the udders dry, when they returned to their farms they did a “reblocher” (which in French means a second milking) and used the milk to make cheese. It is the main ingredient in Tartiflette.

Raclette, probably the most famous local cheese, but originally from our neighbours in the Valais, Switzerland. It is now not only produced all across the Alps but in the Auvergne, Franche-Comté and Bretagne regions of France as well as in Québec and even Australia! Raclette is made from cow’s milk, unpasteurised or pasteurised. It melts beautifully and has a mild flavour. Originally the farmers would cut one of the 6kg ronds in half, warm it over their wood fire and scrape the melting cheese onto their bread and potatoes. This is where the name comes from: “Racler” is the French for “scrape”.

Tomme, a mountain cheese, so found all across the French and Swiss Alps. Made from cow, sheep or goat milk. It’s identifying characteristic is that it is made from skimmed milk, the fatty milk having been used to make butter. Soft in texture and lightly flavoured with a distinctive ‘croute’.

 

Electric vehicles and solar panels; they aren’t really that green anyway?

Fake News and Myth buster

The first thing to understand is that all transport has an environmental cost. However some forms of transport have a higher cost to the environment than others.

There is a lot of mis-information going around on social media at the moment, trying to claim that electric cars are not a “green” form of transport. Remember what they are up against. Oil companies and the car lobby, both huge and neither play fair. The reason the oil companies hate EV’s is obvious. You might wonder why the car manufactures have an issue though, it’s because in the short-term they can’t make any money from them. They’ll change their tune in time when they have re-tooled for the job. It is starting, but has taken years. The lead has been taken by Tesla, Nissan/Renault and to a smaller extent BMW, that is it though. And between the last 3 they only really have 3 models available to buy!

It is true that a new EV has a higher cost to the environment that a new IC vehicle (so a vehicle with an Internal Combustion engine). This remains the case if the vehicle is not used. But as each vehicle is used the environmental cost of the EV quickly catches up with the IC car. That’s because the IC is continually adding CO2 into the environment. The initial cost to the environment for an EV is mostly in the manufacturing of the battery.

Recycling

The same goes for making the photovoltaic panels (PV’s), that has an environmental impact, however over their life they pay back the environment many times over. They are due to last 30 years, perhaps more. Then what happens to them? Well they are mostly glass, and like glass can be recycled. The same goes for the batteries. They can either be re purposed, so used in a house, or recycled. I’d be very keen to buy some old EV batteries to add to my house, if only I could get them at a good price.

Here is a great infographic that explains about recycling PV’s. It’s from these guys.

https://www.greenmatch.co.uk/blog/2017/10/the-opportunities-of-solar-panel-recycling

Recycling: A Solar Panels Life after Death [infographic]

If everyone had an electric car the grid would not cope / we’d have to build 20 new nuclear power stations.

This is another one that I see a lot. It is mainly based on erroneous calculations. Generally assuming that everyone will use their EV to full capacity every day and then they’ll all plug in at the same time. If that did happen then there would indeed be a problem. However.

  1. It will take a very long time for people to covert to EV’s, currently only 3% of new cars sold are pure EV’s.
  2. On average we don’t drive very far each day, something like 30 km for each car each day. We don’t all plug in at the same time either.
  3. The way we use electricity is changing fast, our biggest issue in the future is going to be storing the power we generate during the day from PV’s and wind. The EV battery could be the answer to this. It is early days but a combination of EV’s being used to store power and discharge it to others at peak times could be a real revolution.

This last argument is being put about by the big energy firms. However, they have a history of trying to kill new technology to protect their position. Salter’s duck is an example.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salter%27s_duck

http://www.checktheevidence.com/Disclosure/Web%20Pages/The%20untimely%20death%20of%20Salter’s%20Duck.htm

Some more resources on the subject.

http://theconversation.com/which-transport-is-the-fairest-of-them-all-24806

https://www.theguardian.com/football/ng-interactive/2017/dec/25/how-green-are-electric-cars

https://phys.org/news/2018-05-electric-vehicles-billions-energy-storage.html

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2018-06-27/where-3-million-electric-vehicle-batteries-will-go-when-they-retire

Solar Panels in the snow

3 years ago I wrote about an Electric Car in the snow. I still have an electric car, it looks just like the last one, however it goes further and charges more quickly. I want to use the greenest form of transport I can, so the next logical step is to install photovoltaic (PV) solar panels. If you don’t think EV’s (electric vehicles) and PV’s are as green as some people make out, then check out my thoughts here.

Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels do not produce electricity when covered in snow!

I finally got around to working out if I could make photovoltaic (PV) solar panels pay their way. Although I like to try and be as green as I can, I’m only really that interested if being green can save money too. If you compare the payback of anything today to what you’d get from money saved in the bank. Any sort of payback wins!

But first, I can confirm that PV’s don’t produce electricity when covered in snow. This is a non issue for a number of reasons. In the depths of winter the PV’s don’t produce much electricity anyway. If you look at the table below, you will see that in December they only produce 20% of the power of June. Secondly, although I live at 840m altitude in the Alps, I don’t think they will be covered with snow for that may days. Because even when it does snow, once the sun comes out the snow will slide off the same day.

The calculations

First of all I wanted to know how much power my EV needs in a year. I drive 12,000 km/year. That’s 33 km/day, the car has a real world efficiency of 12 kw/100km, so that means I need 4kw of power for an average day’s driving. This real world figure is available on my car’s dashboard, it’s like your IC (internal combustion) car’s fuel consumption figure. So it takes into account the hills, the type of driving you do, and a particular issue for EV’s, the cold temperatures.

Next, you have to work out how much power you can generate where you live. This is quite easy to do. Thanks to the EU there is a web-based calculator that takes everything into account. Your local weather, days of snow cover, even shading from the surrounding mountains.  You will need to know which direction your panels will face, use a compass, (or your phone). This is dictated by where you are going to mount them, in my case that is my garage roof. The angle at which they will be mounted (inclination), use a protractor (or your phone). Then you will need to know how many panels your roof will take. You can use this excellent calculator for that easy-pv.co.uk/, in my case that was 11 panels.

Panels produce between 250-300 W each, the best value panels (not necessarily the prettiest) are currently 270 W, so 270 x 11= 2.97 kw

So the numbers I needed

Power of system 2.97 kw
PV type Crystaline Silicon
Inclination 30°
Orientation 230°, which seems to translate to 50° on this site
Location (use Google maps) 46.231, 6.647

Plug the numbers into the updated site
http://re.jrc.ec.europa.eu/pvg_tools/en/tools.html#PVP

This is the result I got, the new site has more pictures!

So from this you can see that the average daily yield is 7.76 kWh, I mentioned before my car would need 4 kWh, which means that for the space I had available I could almost power two cars (or drive twice as far).

Permission

You need permission off the grid, so in France that is Enedis. I had decided that I wanted to keep the process as simple and the best value as possible. I think the best way to do this is install the system yourself and not to sell any excess power back to the grid. In other words to set the system up so you can use all the power produced. To sell excess power back to the grid you have to use a professional installer, in which case the purchase costs double, which destroys the value of the whole proposition.

This is the site which explains about the permission https://www.enedis.fr/produire-de-lelectricite#etape-prealable, you’ll see that at the top it says you’ll need to ask for permission from the local mairie, that’s not planning permission. But a déclaration préalable de travaux (DP), which is easier than planning permission. You pick the forms up from the mairie. If you have got this far, then you’ll find they are not hard to fill out. Hand them back and wait for a decision from the council. It’ll depend how long it is to the next meeting. For me it was a month. Once you have the permission, you need to go back to the Enerdis site, create an account, upload your forms and a certificat de conformité  for your equipment (available from your supplier). They will create a contract (Convention d’auto-consommation sans injection) for you to sign digitally. I had to wait a week for this.

Fitting the PV’s

Then it was time to get started! I started this process in June, it took until October to get to this stage. It would have made much more sense to start the process in January, however life doesn’t work like that does it?

I had chosen the garage, not because of its proximity to the car, but because it was more accessible to an amateur like myself. It’s closer to the ground for a start!

The first job was to trim back the obvious tree. PV’s really do not like shade.

Then I ordered the equipment. It all fitted onto one pallet.

A friend lent me some scaffolding. I had thought that I could just use a ladder. That was a dumb idea. You will need scaffolding, and for most of the fitting, you will need a second pair of hands!

Fitting the rails and panels took 2 people two afternoons. Here you can see one of the inverters (onduleur in French). With this system there is one inverter for 2 panels. These little devices convert the 20 V (ish) DC power the panels produce into 230 V AC power that the house (and car) use. As an aside, it’s a shame to do this, as the car then converts it back to DC power to charge its batteries. Oh well . All the wiring on the roof is “plug and play”, all waterproofed and no screwdrivers required.

Working on a roof in the mountains, during a sunny autumn is a joy.

The wiring

Not much to do here. In this case we just plugged them into a socket! There is an isolator switch in this picture, though in this case you can isolate the panels by unplugging the socket. We were supplied with a meter too, it’s not strictly necessary, however it is nice to know how much power the panels are producing. I have checked the numbers against the calculations and they match very closely. You can go to town on the monitoring. I could be monitoring electricity produced compared to electricity consumed in real-time from my desk. However it is all extra cost.

One point of note. When the panels are unplugged from the mains, the inverters switch off. So you can’t be electrocuted. If this did not happen, and the power to your house went off, the panels would still be producing electricity and you, your electrician or even a grid worker could be in danger

The finished job, complete with electric car. The car is not plugged into the panels themselves. The car is plugged into the domestic electricity system. The panels are plugged into the same system. The car could be using the power produced, but then so could my fridge, computer, lights or whatever, and as I work from home there is always power being consumed during the day.

Further considerations for your solar installation

I have used polycrystalline panels. The panels have an electric blue colour to them. They don’t look too bad on the metal garage roof, they are not overlooked by anyone either. However if I was to do the same thing on the house roof I would consider a matt black panel. It’s possible that in a few years the panel to use will be “thin film”, especially with a large area to cover.

My house has a 3-phase electrical system. This makes using all the power these panels produce harder to sort out. There are various things that could be done, it’s not particularly complicated. It is worth thinking about in advance though.

Resources

Two fascinating real-time breakdowns of where you electricity is coming from, hour by hour One for France https://www.rte-france.com/fr/eco2mix/eco2mix-mix-energetique and another for the UK http://electricinsights.co.uk/#/dashboard?_k=16xtar

A simple power calculator https://powercalculator.ibc-solar.com/

Some chat on how to deal with 3-phase power https://www.solarchoice.net.au/blog/solar-power-single-phase-vs-3-phase-connections

3-phase again, in French https://www.kitsolaire-autoconsommation.fr/kit-panneau-solaire/kit-solaire-autoconsommation/kit-solaire-triphase-grande-puissance/#combinaison

Immersion controllers, the simplest way to store excess power https://midsummerwholesale.co.uk/buy/solar-immersion-controller

This could be the future however it is expensive at the moment. A great way to store excess summer generation for the winter. https://www.pveurope.eu/News/Power-Heat/Home-Power-Solutions-starts-distribution-of-Picea-micro-fuel-cell-system

This could be a very interesting addition to the system https://myenergi.uk/products/ however it might make more sense if I was selling power back to the grid.

Fully charged has spent 10 minutes reviewing it.

 

Thanks

Thanks to Mark Chewter at http://www.pluginsolar.co.uk/ he supplied all the equipment. His advice on the type of fixings to use on my roof was invaluable too. 54 emails in the end. Thanks to Ady for the scaffolding and first days help with getting the panels up, also for his skills as measuring up to drill the holes. That’s the hard bit, drilling the holes is easy! Steve for the second afternoon of panel fixing and Richard for the finishing touches and all the final electrics.